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wrbones
04-13-03, 03:50 PM
http://www.timesdispatch.com/frontpage/MGB4S13CGED.html

Shake seals family's joy
Marine's photo says 1,000 words

BY MEREDITH FISCHER
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Apr 13, 2003



When Marine Cpl. Jason Long was little, he and his younger brother, Matthew, had a secret handshake.

A recent news photo of Long, shot in a small town on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, shows the 22-year-old teaching that same handshake to a group of Iraqi teenagers.

It was the first sign Sharon Long had received since the war started that her son was alive.


"I cried," she said. "He was fine."

Long, a 1999 Varina High School graduate, is a member of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.

He's one of the Richmond area's local men who left the comforts of home, family and a girlfriend to fight for something he believed in.

"He belongs there," his mother said.

Long always wanted to be a Marine, even before he and his brother learned the secret handshake from a man at church.

By the age of 15, Jason Long was putting together his own military outfits.

He would dress up in makeshift camouflage garb, manufactured from his hunting clothes, and play army. Sometimes, he would use the clothes to sneak up on his grandmother while she was in the garden and stage a surprise attack.

"He would get down in there and throw dirt at her," Sharon Long said.

The family dwells on these stories now more than ever. Somehow, the tales make members of the Long family feel closer to Jason, as do their symbolic pacts. Charles Long, for example, hasn't had a soda in more than three years.

When Jason left for boot camp, Charles promised his son he would not drink a Coke until the four years of service were up and Jason came home to Richmond.

"That soda's going to taste good," he said.

For Sharon Long, it's a book, a bracelet and a candle.

Before Jason left for boot camp, he bought his mother a book on Marine traditions. She read it to better understand what her son was going through at Parris Island, S.C.

Back then, three months away from home seemed like forever.

The bracelet, Sharon Long bought a few weeks ago.

"I needed something on me that represented him," she said.

It's a silver charm bracelet with a single charm, a silver circle with Jason's name on one side and his unit on the other.

"I will not take it off," she said.

No one knows the importance of the candle, representative of an eternal flame, better than Jason's younger brother.

Matthew Long, 19, mistakenly unplugged the electric Christmas candle last week in hopes of seeing the television better.

Boy, was he sorry.

"I freaked out," Sharon Long said. "I told him, 'Don't you even unplug that candle.'" She promised herself she would keep it lit until her son came home.

Like many mothers, Sharon Long watches a lot of television. At the law office where she works, she keeps the radio turned on at her desk.

She listens for certain key words. Marines. Fatality.

"When you hear them talking, it's like your heart stops. Everything stops," she said. "All you can do is hope and pray."

Rebecca Miller, Jason's girlfriend, does a lot of the same.

The two met about year ago on the Internet - the very place she goes now to feel closer to him.

"I couldn't believe it when Jason told me," Sharon Long said. "I was like, 'You met a girl on the Internet?'"

It was actually in www.match.com.

Jason Long was in Bahrain at the time and the two corresponded by e-mail until they could finally meet in person.

It was perfect for Jason, who, unlike his younger brother, was always afraid to talk to girls.

This weekend, Miller is staying with the Longs at their home in eastern Henrico County.

"I love her," Sharon Long said. "I don't have any daughters."

The two fret together.

Jason's father and brother keep their emotions held in check.

Charles Long will watch a little CNN and then go out and cut the grass to take his mind off of it.

Matthew Long has no doubt. His brother will make it back.

"He's just so strong," he said. "He wasn't afraid to fight"


Contact Meredith Fischer at (804) 649-6452 or mfischer@timesdispatch.com